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Geek, Community

Being Afraid of Yourself

A few years ago I wrote a piece about moving when you’re a nerd.  It’s a giant pain to lug around your seventeen boxes of regular books, not to mention the ten longboxes of comics that you haven’t opened in literal decades but still insist on clinging on to. 

No, that last sentence is not about me. I only have three and two-halves longboxes of comics.  That’s totally different.

But now you’ve finished the move.  You are happy with how you decorated the apartment.  You didn’t just empty boxes; you unpacked.  This dwelling is now distinctly an extension of you.  Art is on the wall.  Bookcases are carefully curated.  Your box sets of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Justice League Unlimited sit prominently displayed near your TV.  The X-Men and Avengers magnets you squirreled away in the 90s finally have a fridge to reside on.  Everything is where it should be.

But, there’s still one box left: the box labeled “office.”

Yes, your office box.  Stuff you packed up from your old place and moved with you into your new job.  Small pictures for your desk, cute little trinkets from vacations or collecting, and a calendar featuring the characters of Overwatch.

You bring the box to your car, thinking nothing of it.  It’s not until you open the box at your new desk that you start to think, “Do I want to let my geek flag fly on day one?”  And it all comes rushing back: the kids in grade school and high school who made fun of you for reading comics.  The bullies who would jostle a table and ruin a game of Magic or Pokemon. People who questioned why you’d rather stay at home with dice and a mountain of rulebooks instead doing body shots and dancing with strangers.

A few weeks later, you met some new people and someone’s coming to your place.  Up until now you avoided nerd topics and talked about work, current events, the weather, and that local sports team.  But one of your new acquaintances hasn’t seen Black Panther and you have Netflix.  You start to tidy up and the office box feeling washes over you anew.  The memories of ridicule and social exile bubble up to the top of your consciousness.  It’s too late to cancel, and your walls are covered in comic book art.  The complete collections of Gaiman’s Sandman, Morrison’s New X-Men, and Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern sit proudly on shelves.  There are open binders of cards strewn on your kitchen table.  Your television is clearly wired to your gaming PC as a 40-inch monitor.  The fridge still has X-Men and Avengers magnets you saved from the 90s.

There is no escape.  You have thirty minutes til your guest arrives, precisely long enough to do literally nothing except scrub the bathroom, sweep the floor, and load the dishwasher.  When the doorbell rings, you will have outed yourself.

As much as we love to display our fandoms, the displays also make us anxious.  The same things that fill us with joy when we see them terrify us when strangers turn their gaze.  Why?  It’s a part of who we are.  The nerd renaissance brought forth by the Marvel Cinematic Universe and (as much as I loathe to admit it) The Big Bang Theory flung our subcultures into the limelight.  Characters like Steve Rogers, Jessica Jones, T’Challa, and Gamora are all household names.  However, there’s a certain lingering feeling that isolates you.  The feeling that even though “nerds are cool now” that maybe your guests will think you like the nerd stuff a little too much.  I mean, doesn’t everyone have a limited-edition, unopened White Lantern Hal Jordan action figure displayed on the coffee table? 

No.  No, they do not.

That’s not to say that your shelf full of only D&D books or your Daredevil: Yellow print are bad.  But… they do make you vulnerable.  Every Funko Pop figure on your desk and every poster on your cubicle wall show your office mates your true colors.  The still-unopened figurines, comics-only bookshelves, and fridge magnets show your guests who you are.

Someone I worked with years ago told me, “Dante, you know you’ll never find a partner if you keep wearing superhero t-shirts, right?”

I responded, “Or maybe I’ll find the best one.”

We revel in our fandoms, even as they lay bare our passions.  It’s scary to show so much of yourself, but at least you know you’re honest.  That fear hasn’t quite gone away for me, but it’s gotten easier to conquer. 

I am a comics nerd who loves Magic, Buffy, The Dresden Files, and nearly any board game that you put in front of me.  Who are you?